Small Alberta town of Strathmore rallies to help growing homeless population

The economic downturn means even small-town Alberta is now struggling with a growing homeless population, says a Strathmore pastor who is trying to help alleviate the problem.

Local church plans to house a transitional shelter once it upgrades its sprinkler and fire system

Pastor Elizabeth Karp says she's seen a significant rise in the number of homeless people over the past year in Strathmore and links that to the downturn in Alberta's oil and gas industry. (Linda Tanner/Flickr)

A community just east of Calgary is rallying together to address the issue of homelessness that has been made worse by the downturn in Alberta's oil and gas industry. 

Pastor Elizabeth Karp is heading up an initiative to establish a transitional shelter at the Harvest Healing Centre Church to provide overnight housing for men and women in the area who are struggling through these tough times.

"People are living in their cars, some are being found (around) the ATM machines trying to keep warm, or against doors," Karp said in an interview with The Calgary Eyeopener.

"Some have gotten laid off their jobs. They've got families. They have nowhere to go," said Karp, adding she's seen a significant rise in the number of those people over the past year. 

"They're looking for jobs at wherever — pumping gas, McDonald's — but it doesn't meet the rent payments."

A 'fantastic' community, says Karp

The shelter project is a joint effort by local community leaders and has already won the support of the town council, which donated $40,000 toward the project in December, Karp said. 

"They definitely see and understand the need."

The Harvest Healing Centre Church recently opened up a soup kitchen called Abraham's Plate to help those in need. (Google)

Over the years, the community has done a good deal to "hide" these people and the problem of homelessness, but the demand has grown so high that it's no longer possible, Karp said.

"If somebody's homeless, they don't necessarily call the authorities; they've been taking them in themselves," she said." 

"They find places for them to stay with people temporarily, especially if it's really cold out."

Now that there is a centralized effort, residents are "absolutely thrilled," and have been more than willing to donate their time, money and expertise, Karp said.

"I'm really impressed by our community. I'm really, really thankful. They've been fantastic," she said.

Still, there's work to be done.

The church won't be able to open the shelter until it installs a new sprinkler and fire alarm system to bring it in line with building regulations that were updated in 2014.

"I'm really praying that we can get through the sprinkler system and all that, and do what we need to do."

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